Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.

Archive for March, 2008

Klingon interface for Google search
March 31st, 2008

Google has introduced a Klingon interface for its search engine. Should intrigue all the Star Trek fans out there. Beam me up Scotty!

Via Google Operating System.

The Illawarra Fly
March 30th, 2008

This afternoon Shao-Ping, myself and our two guests from Taiwan, Claire and Kelly, went for a drive south through the Illawarra, past my school at Albion Park and then up Macquarie Pass to the top of the Illawarra Escarpment. A new tourist attraction opened on the escarpment two weeks ago ~ The Illawarra Fly.

What is the Illawarra Fly you ask? A large insect of the order Diptera with dimensions not unlike the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour? Perhaps a massive opened zipper comparable in size to the Big Pineapple at Nambour? Well, thank goodness, the Illawarra Fly is not a kitsch piece of titanic tourist trash. It is a tree-top walk along the edge of the Illawarra escarpment.

We arrived at the ‘fly‘, bought our tickets and made our way through the temperate rainforest to the structure. It is quite high and I am not one for heights actually. Not sure why. I climbed Uluru when I was 14 and I have even been on two tandem skydives from 4000 metres but some heights still get to me. I ventured out on to the structure and began taking photographs. I will admit that I did not climb the tower. Perhaps next time.

The views north and east across the Illawarra escarpment are sensational. You can see all of the peaks conquered by my alter ego Larry as a member of the Adventurers’ Club. Mount Kembla, Mount Keira and Broker’s Nose are all there. The Illawarra looks like a nice place to live and work, eh? I car-pool with Diamond and Horse from the Adventurers’ Club.

Looking north towards Wollongong in the distance and the Illawarra Escarpment

Beneath us lay Albion Park and the Yellow Rock region. Due east is Shellharbour. The Pacific Ocean spreads out along the eastern horizon. The weather was perfect for the adventure.

Yellow Rock and Albion Park countryside

Following the tree top walk we made our way back through the forest and I took a few more photographs. I think I took 71 in all. I should create a new gallery.

A massive tree ~ I do not know the species…

Shao Ping, Claire and Kelly

After that we drove back down the mountain and through the dairy farms. Claire and Kelly jumped at the opportunity to photographs the cows in the late afternoon light.

Contented cows. They’re not thinking about joining a Diigo group.

Diigo in education ~ this is crazy man!
March 30th, 2008

At least two Diigo education groups have been created in the last three days. Think about it. There are many more similar groups on Diigo. Which one should I join? Should I join them all?

Help!!!! This is all getting a little out of control. I feel like it is the middle ages, a convicted criminal, four horses attached to my four limbs and they are all galloping in a different direction. Should I join that Ning? Should I follow that group? What about Diigo? Yeeeaaaagggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!

Time to move to another planet. At least get out and take some photographs and have a  quiet beer.

Doug Belshaw speaks my language
March 30th, 2008

Doug Belshaw wrote an amazing post about the changing face of the edublogosphere. Do yourself a favour and read Doug’s post. I hope it is a wake-up call for education bloggers. Similar thoughts have surfaced in other education blogging circles of late. Graham Wegner wrote an excellent reply on Doug’s blog. I wrote a long comment on his blog. It was a collection of my recent thoughts and observations that I have written here and there lately plus a few new ones. This is my comment:

Doug, what an incredible post and how very reassuring.

I have blogged about all sorts of crap for a while now. Last year I thought I would give the blog a bit of focus.

I have returned to the secondary school classroom to teach history. This is after ten years in educational technology in corporate and tertiary fields. I have experienced some fairly incredible highs and also one incredible low that left me in a Singaporean hospital for about five days in 2000. Nothing like being bullied into submission and having your self-esteem surgically extracted by an abusive boss all in the name of IT, portals, eyeballs and stickiness.

The classroom restored my focus and I thought I would rebirth the blog and write about education and technology and history. It was time to enjoy education technology. I enjoyed it at first and garnered a few comments here and there and made some contacts. But then late last year and early this year I began to get this sinking feeling. The blogs that I read were becoming homogenous. So many blogs began to look and sound the same.

I was on quite a roll myself early January but then the wheels fell off my litte red cart. Something about the education blogging environment was gnawing at my guts. Whatever it was it must have been gnawing at your guts too.

I may elaborate further on my own blog Doug but in short I agree with you wholeheartedly that “…the edublogosphere has changed from being about ‘the conversation’ to being part of ‘the network’. It all smacks a little too much of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and, to be honest, viral marketing of Web 2.0 apps”.” I know I have been a part of that. Forgive me father for I have sinned.

Wes Fryer is right. We need focus. We need a little chaos and anarchy as well. Is that what Graham means when he writes that there is room for all users? I think I sound confused. Must make sure that the focus does not create an all over grey world of bloggers.

I worry about the education bloggers that are guiding the more recent entrants to the medium how to blog. New bloggers have surfaced recently, have been adopted by “more seasoned” bloggers and have been moulded into the image of their guide or mentor. These may be like the “bland joneses” that Ewan McIntosh refers to in his comment. Some of these “bland joneses” are now centre-stage in the education blogging environment.

I have observed a number of new education bloggers join the networks of late and they soon become mirror images of the more seasoned or ‘vocal’ edubloggers. By vocal I do not mean provocative or innovative. I simply mean they have a voice within the edublogging environment that is taken as gospel. It is a pity. I feel that the twitter networks play a role in the establishment of this sameness. It is quite intriguing to observe.

Lisa Stevens makes a good point about the intimidation regarding new tools. I have been caught up in that as well but nothing incenses more when I blogger mentions how they spotted that app before such and such did. Who cares? The earth will still manage to rotate on its axis without that knowledge.

Perhaps I am getting old but the excessive positivity about this tool and that tool in some blogs annoys me. Does that make me a ‘grumpy old man’. I am a little tired of the excessive use of bold font type and exclamation marks in some blogs to proclaim some ‘new’ tool. Lately it has been Diigo and Friendfeed. As you mention there is a diigo craze on the moment. I think there is now an inverse correlation between the number of exclamation marks a new tool receives throughout the education blogging environment and my willingness to give the tool a try.

Sometimes the tools are not all that new and have escaped the attention of the majority of education bloggers until one of the old-guard, blogging elite or a member of the newer ‘generation 2.0′ drops a line about a tool on Twitter or their blog and all the acolytes jump on board and go into orgasmic delight about the world changing benefits of the ‘new’ tool. It is the acolytes that add the bold font and the exclamation marks. As Carl Anderson commented the evangelising of new tools is indeed sickening. I have been caught up in that. I guess I need to say ten “Hail Marys” and stand in the corner now.

Vicki Davis is also right. It is “hard to find fresh thoughts and innovations”. I have also wondered about the conversations and the reducation in th diversity of thought within the edublogosphere and at least within the blogs that I read there seems to be a sameness creeping into the environment. I articulated these thoughts a little further on Christopher Sesssum’s blog when he posted about social networks the other day. Some of them are repeated here.

I have sensed of late that segments of the “edublogosphere” are dominated by a small coterie of seasoned bloggers who are followed by a dedicated core of disciples that hang off their every word. I think this is stifling original thought and creating a sameness in some edublogging arenas. The conversations are limited to a few yet cloned by many.

Christopher Sessums asked “What sort of mechanisms can we set up to encourage creativity and diversity among edubloggers?” I agree that the world of education bloggers should be more like an agora as Christopher alluded too with a highly varied range of discussions, debates, marketing of ideas and the ‘playing of games’ (as per an agora). (The agora of ancient Athens was largely responsible for the creation of democracy, philosophy and western thought).

Vicki Davis mentions that more people are Twittering. Twitter is a strange beast. I wonder how an educator can rack up 4000 updates in 3 months? That is an obsessive compulsive disorder in my opinion. It is bizarre. Do they actually teach in a classroom? [Vicki, I am not referring to you.]

I wonder about the relationship between Twitter and education blogging.Has anyone else observed anything peculiar about Twitter? Is it just me? I have written positive posts about the tool but I also have uneasy stirrings in my gut about Twitter. I cannot help but feel that there is an us and them tendency in some Twitter networks. Am I imagining this? Is there a sense of exclusivity that is related to the number of updates or followers? Perhaps I am paranoid.

Your readers may think I am full of sh*te but its how I see things. There are of course great and humble educators that produce excellent blogs that are not a part of the self-flagellating and mutually-masturbating and occasionally elitist group that I have observed. Why do these bloggers not get the voice that they deserve? Are their Twitter ranks too low?

I recently spoke about these trends and a friend simply said why give the education bloggers that you feel do not contribute or lack innovative thinking a voice? Why link to them? I agree. I mentioned to Christopher Sessums that perhaps it was time to look for fresh contacts. Elements of my Google Reader list have indeed become stale.

Doug, you are the first of those new contacts. Thanks for reinvigorating my interest, restoring my faith in the medium and giving a voice to the thoughts I have felt.

Best wishes, John.”

World’s oldest recorded sound
March 29th, 2008

This morning I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the world’s oldest recorded sound. The recording was made by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on a phonautograph. The audio recording predates Edison’s sound recordings by a couple of decades. The recording is available from the the First Sound site.

The world’s oldest recorded sound

The entire recording is ten seconds long and features a Parisian singer giving a rendition of the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune”. The recording was made on a phonautograph, a device that was created to record sounds visually. It was not designed to play them back. A group of scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California devised a method to decode the paper based transcription to audio.

The 1859 model of Scott’s phonautograph. Source: Franz Josef Pisko,
Die neuere Apparate der Akustik
(Vienna, 1865). Image courtesy of David
Giovanni and First Sounds.

Detail of an 1859 phonautogram made by Scott and included in his patent paperwork, preserved at the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (INPI),
the French patent office. Image courtesy of David Giovanni and First Sounds.

David Giovanni gave permission for the reproduction of the images on this page. His own web site is well worth exploring. David Giovanni has been involved in the discovery and publication of old recordings. One of his releases, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1891-1922, even won a Grammy Award.

David Giovannoni inspects Scott’s first two experimental sound recordings,
made in 1853 or 1854, in the archives of the Académie des Sciences
of the Institut de France, where they were deposited in 1857.
Photo by Isabelle Trocheris. Image courtesy of David Giovanni and First Sounds

I have always had a fascination with audio. I used to enjoy taking bootleg recordings of artists like Bowie, Led Zeppelin and others and then attempting to improve the sound quality using tools like graphic equalisers and a DBX 117 dynamic range enhancer. I was once a guest editor of Crosstalk, the journal of the Australian Tape Recording Society way back in 1980, I think.

Vaguely related note: If you are interested in old 78RPM records I highly recommend that you check out Joe Bussard’s Fontone Records site. He was born in 1936 and is a classic digital native. Check out his MySpace profile for his take on rap music and rock ‘n’ roll.


Wikipedia: Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville
David Giovanni’s web site.
New York Times. Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison
Sydney Morning Herald. Listen up: world’s oldest recording gets airplay
Archeophone Records
Fonotone Records
Joe Bussard’s MySpace page